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Helix Light Controller

Standalone, Wireless, Networkable Light Controller

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What is the Helix?

The Helix is a DIY hardware and software system that allows you to create a professional looking synchronized light show at a fraction of the cost of the commercial systems. The Helix is one of the most advanced DIY light controllers available. Using the freeware application called Vixen and the Helix Network Supervisor application you can synchronize your Christmas (or other holiday) display to music.

The hardware is designed to be a distributed architecture. This allows you to put the devices that actually switch the lights, called Solid State Relays (SSR), close to the lights. This can greatly decrease the amount of extension cords necessary. With a single Cat5 jumper cable and a single power cord you can place as few as four and as many as 32 SSRs next to the lights they control. The four channel SSRs enclosures are very small, approximately 4"(H) x 3"(W) x 1.5"(D). This makes for a very clean and neat installation.

The standard Helix hardware consists of one main board, three daughter boards and 32 four channel SSRs for a total of 128 light channels. Each of these channels has 256 levels of dimming for maximum control of your display. This configuration gives you the most flexible layout options. If there are areas of your display that require high channel counts then you can replace one of the daughter boards and eight of the four channel SSRs with a single SSR daughter board. The SSR daughter board allows you to control 32 channels at up to a total of 60A.

The main thing that sets the Helix apart from the other DIY controllers, and most of the commercial controllers, is its ability to operate as a standalone controller comes standard. You don't need to have a PC running just to run your show. With the Helix you can store the sequences, MP3 songs and the schedule on a MicroSD card. The MicroSD card plugs into a socket on the main board. The Helix will read the show schedule off of the MicroSD card and at the correct time start displaying the show. The songs are played on a MP3 player that plugs into the main board. The output of the MP3 player can be connected to a small FM transmitter so everyone can enjoy your show from the comfort of their vehicle. The show repeats until the scheduled shut down time. In between shows you can play songs without flashing the lights. Additionally you can have different shows and/or multiple shows every night of the week. All of this automatically happens every day until it is time to take the display down.

What if You Need More Than 128 Channels?

This is where the real power of the Helix comes into play. Each Helix main board is equiped with a Digi (formerly MaxStream) XBee-Pro RF module. The XBee-Pro is a low cost, low power radio transceiver with a very good range (approximately 1 mile line of sight). This radio is used to wirelessly network two or more Helix systems together. This allows a virtually unlimited number of channels1 to be synchronized together and with a range of about 1 mile it should be possible to synchronize the lights on every house on a city block!2

Note 1: The current protocol limits the number of channels using standard Helix hardware to 32,128; however, if more channels are needed the protocol can easily be expanded to support over 8,000,000 channels. (I can't even conceive of trying to sequence 32,000 channels let alone 8,000,000. So as far as I'm concerned the current protocol is virtually unlimited.)

Note 2: The one mile range is the manufacturer's claim, actual range will probably be less. This is theoretically possible but has not been tested yet. I will provide all of the technical assistance necessary to the first person that wants to give this a try.

Modes of Operation

Besides working as described above, using standard Helix hardware, the Helix can control other DIY controllers and DMX devices. By using the channel bank ports, the ports where the daughter boards are connected to the main board, the Helix can control a serial string of Renard DIY controllers. Since each string of Renard controllers can be 286 channels, and the Helix can control three strings, this ups the maximum channel count for one Helix main board to 890!

Each of the channel bank ports can also be configured to be a DMX 512A universe supporting 512 channels each. So any of the DIY or commercial controllers that can be controlled via DMX can be controlled by the Helix. Using three DMX universes ups the channel count to 1,568 all from one Helix main board!!!

Want to Know More?

Please check out the menu on the left for additional information about the Helix and to download Vixen, the Helix Network Supervisor application and the assembly manuals.